Star-Bulletin Sports


Ka‘aihue prime
for the picking

The Iolani slugger is one of
the top Hawaii high school
prospects in this week's draft

By Jason Kaneshiro

Kila Ka'aihue had seen it all before. The radar guns, the stopwatches, the notepads, the probing eyes breaking down every element of a player's game.

Last year, Ka'aihue observed how Bronson Sardinha and Brandon League handled the crush of scouts sizing up the state's prized baseball prospects.

But as a senior, the Iolani power hitter discovered it's different when it's your turn under the microscope, and the lessons he absorbed a year ago helped him endure the pressure this spring.

"When I was struggling I looked back at how (Sardinha) did it," Ka'aihue said. "Bully just kept a cool head about it and I tried to do the same thing. He didn't show much emotion, he just played hard and tried to show them all he had.

"I talked to him a couple times and he told me, 'Just relax, they know what you can do already. Just have fun.' "

Ka'aihue is among the local high school prospects hoping to follow Sardinha and League into the professional ranks this week as Major League Baseball holds its First-Year Player Draft. The draft starts Tuesday in New York and concludes Wednesday.

Ka'aihue and Molokai pitcher Keahi Rawlins are considered the state's top prep prospects entering the draft.

Last year, six Hawaii high school players were picked, led by Sardinha, who was picked by the New York Yankees with a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds, and League, a second-round selection of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Ka'aihue hasn't been told where he could end up, but said he has been contacted by the Yankees, Milwaukee Brewers, Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves and Oakland A's.

"I'm curious," Ka'aihue said. "I really haven't been told any specifics. I've just been told I'm on a lot of teams' boards."

Ka'aihue, who measures up at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, has worked out for representatives from the Royals and San Francisco Giants and spent the last two weekends at scouting camps in Los Angeles.

The first camp was conducted by the Devil Rays at the Cal State Fullerton field. The scouts tested the players' arm strength with outfield throws, ran them though a 60-yard dash and graded their fielding skills before letting them show their prowess in the batting cage.

"I hit the ball pretty good," said Ka'aihue, whose father, Kala, played with the Hawaii Islanders. "I honestly feel a lot of the island guys that don't get a lot of coverage were a lot better than the guys that were up there.

"I had butterflies at first, but when stuff started rolling and I saw how these guys were and we started throwing and hitting I wasn't nervous at all. It was fun to go out and play with those guys."

Ka'aihue has signed a national letter of intent to attend Nebraska and could become a Cornhusker if the draft doesn't go to his liking.

Rawlins, a powerful right-handed pitcher and first baseman, entered the spotlight as a freshman when he helped the Farmers win the first of back-to-back state championships in 1999.

At 6-foot-4, 237 pounds, Rawlins is an imposing figure on the mound. His fastball can touch 90 mph on occasion but routinely registers in the high-80s. He said the Royals and Giants have been the most frequent callers.

Like Ka'aihue, Rawlins carried the weight of the draft throughout the season while providing leadership for a green Molokai team. While the prospect for a professional career is tantalizing, Rawlins said he is taking a wait-and-see approach to this week's proceedings in New York.

"It comes up in my head, but I try not to think about it and just let it happen," Rawlins said.

"There was a lot of pressure this year because I had to perform for the scouts and yet lift my team up because we were so young and inexperienced."

Rawlins also has a college plan in place if the draft doesn't work out. He has signed a letter of intent to join the Hawaii program in the fall.

"There is that security as far as getting to the next level of ball," said Molokai coach Larry Rawlins, Keahi's father. "People have been asking me about it, but he makes the last decision on what he wants to do."

Others who hope to get a call from a major-league club this week include:

>> Dane Awana (Waianae), 6-0, 170, left-handed pitcher: The ace of the Seariders' staff grabbed the attention of scouts this season with a darting fastball clocked in the mid-80s complemented by a curveball and change-up.

Awana struck out 27 batters in a 14-inning stretch during the OIA West season.

>> Matthew Inouye (Mid-Pacific), 5-10, 170, catcher: Scouts like Inouye's athleticism and hustle behind the plate. He showed off his arm strength by throwing out nine of the 16 runners who attempted to steal this season and batted .408 with three home runs. Inouye has signed with Hawaii.

>> Ikaika Lester (Molokai), 6-0, 190, outfield: Lester's raw physical skills could earn him a place in the draft. He's a strong player with good speed and a solid right-handed swing. He may also wind up at Lewis-Clark State.

>> Tyler Perkins (Kamehameha), 5-9, 170, outfield: A four-year starter for the Warriors, Perkins used his speed to create havoc on the basepaths and helped his stock with a second-place finish in the 100-meter dash at the state track and field championships last month.

Perkins is a patient hitter and can dazzle defensively. He was an all-state football selection as the Warriors' free safety.

>> James Strombach (Moanalua), 6-0, 185, outfield: Strombach was an all-conference receiver for the Moanalua football team and the starting goalkeeper for the soccer team.

He possesses a strong arm and swings the bat with authority. His offensive numbers dipped this season as opponents tended to pitch around him. He signed with Cal State Sacramento and said he is leaning toward attending school.

>> Kamaile Santos (Kailua), 6-1, 185, outfield/right-handed pitcher: Known as "Doof" to his teammates, Santos owns a lively fastball on the mound and is a smooth defensive player in the outfield. Santos distinguished himself as a big-game performer in leading the Surfriders to two OIA championships and last year's state title.

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